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Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Ford Focus RS with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Everybody would love a pet monkey. Who wouldn’t? But trust me, you don’t want one, I’ve looked into it. Sure they do tricks, they’re cute, they’re fun, and they look amazing in period costume, but the reality is they want to bite your face off.
It’s the same with most high performance cars. They seem like fun, but often the reality of living with these beasts can be painful. Too low, too wide, too hard to see out of, injected with too much power and fitted with a suspension that’s way too firm. Amazing fun on a race circuit, but hard to live with as a daily driver.
Which is why the new Ford Focus RS waiting in our car park made me do my excited, quick-walk to meet it, but at the same time made me dread the week ahead with its day-care pick-ups, supermarket shopping trips and peak-hour commuting on typically ordinary city roads.
The hype leading up to the arrival of the Focus RS in July 2016 was huge. That RS badge is a medal of honour worn by fast Fords since the 1970s, and it had been six years since the last Ford Focus RS emerged.
Word spread fast that all of them would be built in Germany, that they would be packing big horsepower with all-wheel drive and acceleration quick enough to scare a Porsche 911. The fact that Rallycross star and professional hoon Ken Block had helped develop it filled the RS's arrival with even more promise.
It’s still very much a ‘Franken-Focus’ monster in looks and its heart.
It was all true and now it was here. So what was it like to live with – with a family? Does it really have a drift mode? And what was the most painful part of about the experience? Unless you’ve driven one, you’ll never guess.
|Ford Focus 2017: RS|
|Engine Type||2.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Based on the regular five-door Focus hatch the RS isn’t as extreme looking as its predecessor. Don’t underestimate the RS though it’s still very much a ‘Franken-Focus’ monster in looks and its heart – a four-cylinder turbo engine transplanted from the Mustang.
First the looks. There’s its angry anteater snout and that lower grille with intercooler looming inside and its splitter that looks sharp and low enough to shave Cats Eyes off the road.
From the back it looks just as tough with the large, roof-mounted wing, and diffuser-integrated twin 4.5-inch tail pipes. Then there’s the optional 19-inch gloss black alloys shod with licorice-thin low profile rubber.
Our car looked like a poison dart frog with its 'Nitrous Blue' paint; a similar hue to the front Brembo brake calipers, but with metal flake added. There’s also White, Magnetic (which looks gun metal grey) and Shadow Black.
Looking at the RS’s dimensions compared to a regular Focus in base Trend spec, the RS is 30mm longer at 4390mm end-to-end; the same width from mirror-to-mirror at 2010mm, 13mm taller at 1480mm (that’d be the rear wing) and has 9mm less ground clearance at 100mm (thanks to the lowered suspension).
The RS’s insides are almost identical to a regular Focus. There’s the same display screen, centre console layout and dash design, including the climate control dials, instrument cluster and steering wheel. Making the RS’s interior different are the dash-mounted gauges for boost and water and oil temperatures, alloy pedals and racy Recaro seating.
The Golf R’s interior is a bit more mature, too. I’m not a fan of those toy-like gauges in the RS.
There are bottle holders in all the doors and two cup holders up front; none in the back though.
With the body structure of a regular Ford Focus the RS is one of the most practical high performance cars on the market right now. Decent sized back doors which open wide and a headroom friendly roofline meant even swinging our toddler in and out of his car seat wasn’t back breaking.
A great Recaro bench back seat is comfortable and supportive although there’s not as much legroom in there as a regular Focus thanks to those larger front seats. Still, I’m 191cm tall and there’s daylight between my knees and the seatback when it’s in my driving position. More space than the new Renault Megane for example.
The boot space isn’t great compared to other small hatches at 316 litres (44 litres less than a Toyota Corolla and 63 litres less than a Hyundai i30's cargo capacity) but with our family there was enough room for the weekly shopping and the mountain of gear that follows our child everywhere such as a pram and change bags.
The interior lighting is frustrating. There are map lights over the driver and front passenger and directional lights over the rear passengers. However, while the LED bulbs are intensely bright to look at, they don’t cast a wide beam.
At $50,990 the RS is a very expensive Focus, especially considering the range starts at $24,390 for the base-spec Trend.
Standard features include the eight-inch display with SYNC 2 media system, sat nav, rear-view camera, the leather Recaro seats (front and back), nine-speaker stereo, proximity unlocking, dual-zone climate control and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The optional 19-inch alloy, 235/35 R19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 wheel pack costs $3500.
That’s not a lot in the way of standard features, compared to say a top-of-the-range $35,490 Mazda3 SP25 Astina which has a head-up display and advanced safety tech like Auto Emergency Braking and active cruise control as standard.
Even the $38,990 Focus ST mirrors the RS's standard equipment list almost exactly.
The Volkswagen Golf R is a couple of grand more than the RS at $52,740.
The reason you’re paying so much for the RS is down to the mechanical hardware that makes it such a dynamic beastie. Let’s talk about that..
The Focus RS has a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with an enormous output of 257kW in power and 440Nm of torque. It’s not as much as the 280kW/470Nm of the Mercedes-AMG 45 hatch or the Audi RS3 Sportback with 270kW/465Nm, but those cars are much more expensive, so from a bang-for-your-buck angle, it’s excellent value.
The engine is fundamentally the same four-cylinder that’s in the Mustang EcoBoost, but has been re-engineered for the RS with a low-inertia turbo featuring a bigger compressor, as well as a larger intercooler and radiator, while being tuned to produce a higher output.
Having driven the Mustang EcoBoost I can say this four cylinder is far better suited to a hot hatch. The spooling boost that works like a slingshot is more in keeping with the character of the RS.
The Focus RS only comes with a six-speed manual which sends drive to all four wheels with 100 percent going to the front ones normally, but if needed 70 percent can be delivered to the rears.
The Focus RS doesn’t need a limited slip differential thanks its twin clutch all-wheel drive system which uses torque vectoring on the rear axle. This means drive to a slipping rear wheel could be cut completely, with 100 per cent sent to the opposite wheel. Yup, you could almost turn on the spot.
Ford says the Focus RS will run on 95 RON premium unleaded at an average combined rate of 8.1L/100km but I doubt they drove their car like I did. After putting almost 300km on the clock in a combination of country and city driving I recorded 11.9L/100km.
It was only 10 minutes into my journey home in the Focus RS when I noticed the Audi RS3 in the rear view mirror driven by somebody I can only describe as Korean Elvis. I was darting through peak hour traffic and so was he, keeping right behind me. He wanted to play. It’s the curse of driving a car which screams 'race me.'
Drift mode. It’s a victory over the fun police.
Thing is, I knew how much pain Korean Elvis was in. The RS3’s suspension is so brutally firm and our big city road surfaces are so bad that every pot hole feels like a nuclear bomb going off underneath you.
Not the case with the Focus RS. Sure it doesn’t have the cushiony ride of a Focus Trend, but you can still absolutely live with it. Those optional low-profile Michelins ‘feel’ the road in great detail, which also means they have a habit of following grooves in the road, but they are matched so well with the suspension that the result is a firm but absorbent ride that isn’t going to have you putting it up for sale on our website a week after buying it.
That suspension can also be softened thanks to adjustable dampers when you select the Normal driving mode. The other modes Sport, Track and Drift, which stiffen up the suspension for sharper handling, add weight to the steering, and as you step up to the final two, loosen the traction control leash to give you more freedom to slide – in the right setting of course.
Yup, you're read right. Drift mode. It’s a victory over the fun police, and the actual police. How it works is clever. When Drift mode is selected the car’s computer examines the driver’s steering inputs and will allow the car to slide, but will jump in if it predicts a loss of control. Electronic stability control remains on the entire time. Of course, unless you pay to shut down an entire street like Ken Block, drifting should be done on a skid pan or track.
Another win is how light the clutch is, and how easy that manual gearbox is to use. That first night home in the traffic – Korean Elvis aside – was spent dancing constantly with that clutch and it’s as close to perfect as you’ll find with a low take-up point, and shifts that just find their way home happily.
You’ll see that people online are complaining about the Focus RS’s turning circle, and it’s true 11.8m isn’t good – and that’s two turns lock-to-lock. Streets in my test route that normally take a text-book three points to turn around in took up to five in the RS. It’d be a disaster if the clutch and shifting wasn’t so easy. Even the placement of the gear stick is ergonomically spot-on, so it lands right in your palm when you drop your arm down.
Those 19-inch wheels wouldn’t be helping the turning circle, but also remember that the RS3 doesn’t do much better at 10.9m and the BMW M2 with 19-inch rims has a turning circle of 11.7m.
The steering itself is on the heavier side but accurate, particularly in Sport mode.
And then there’s the acceleration – 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds. A new Porsche 911 with a manual gearbox can do it in 4.6 seconds but it's $150,000 more. The 911 also doesn’t have all-wheel drive or four doors, while only children fit comfortably in the back seats, there’s also next to no boot space and it comes with the constant fear that you’ll return to it after a nice dinner and find some arse has run a key down the side.
The RS is just a lairy looking Focus – or so people will think. To most people that’s just what it looks like and you’ll appear to be an overgrown teenager who thinks they’re Ken Block and has hooned up their Ford Focus with spoilers and plasticy bits.
But to those that know – like Korean Elvis – the Focus RS is not a lairy looking Focus. Under that skin is a very different animal with outstanding handling and agility – worthy of the RS badge.
I didn’t get to drive the RS on a racetrack this time around, but I did get to blast through a wet, twisting, semi-rural backroad in the dead of night and it performed beautifully. Balanced, surefooted with so much grunt under your foot the entire time. My 2002 Holden Monaro with its 5.7 litre V8 could only manage 225kW; this is a Ford Focus, with 270kW! And it’s all far more manageable thanks to the all-wheel drive.
That hot-four engine note is brilliant and the crackle and pop from the exhaust is addictive – and can be made louder and more aggro through the different drive modes.
No, the interior isn’t special – apart from those Recaro seats. And no, the Recaro seats don’t have a height adjustment which leaves you feeling way too high up, but the athletic ability of this car makes these small issues fade away. Besides, you could always get somebody at Ford to look at the seats and see what can be done to adjust them.
So, what was painful about the experience? Smashing my knee on the dashboard’s air vents every time I climbed out. I have the same issue with a regular Focus – the dash board design sees the section which meets the door swoop down. It looks great but my knees hate it.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
The Focus RS has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. What is really lacking in the car is advanced safety technology such as Auto Emergency Braking and lane keeping assistance which comes in the Technology Pack, but is not available on the RS.
For child seats you’ll find three anchor points across the back for top tether style location and two ISOFIX mounts.
The Focus RS is covered by a three year/100,000km warranty with servicing recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. It’s capped at $375 per service for the first three visits, then $520 for the fourth which is major service. Then it's back to $375 each service for the next three, and again $520 for the eighth service. Here’s a bit of pub trivia for you: after 33 years or 495,000km the service will cost you $375 according to the service price calculator on Ford’s website – try to hold them to that!
Don’t dismiss the Focus RS as just another hatchback with a sporty body kit. The RS does exactly what it says on the tin. It goes fast and handles perfectly. At $50K the bang-for-your-buck is excellent, it's as practical as a regular Ford Focus, from ease of parking to room inside, and it’s not too hardcore making it something an enthusiast could live with every day – even with a family.
|RS||2.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$37,950 – 51,888||2017 FORD FOCUS 2017 RS Pricing and Specs|
|RS LIMITED EDITION||2.3L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$44,990 – 51,990||2017 FORD FOCUS 2017 RS LIMITED EDITION Pricing and Specs|
|Sport||1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$18,990 – 24,990||2017 FORD FOCUS 2017 Sport Pricing and Specs|
|ST2||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$27,980 – 36,990||2017 FORD FOCUS 2017 ST2 Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||9|